The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 25

June 8, 2010



As the nation girds its loins for the inevitable fiasco awaiting us in sunny Italy this is possibly an opportune moment to remind ourselves that football is merely an entertainment and is not a metaphor for anything else, least of all our overall worth as a nation (gulp!).

Yes, you’ve guessed it – this is merely an unconvincing introduction to another round of unconnected, “you had to be there to see the funny side” anecdotes about what is really important, namely, the entertainment to be derived from the game.

Let’s begin with the World Cup itself. One consequence for us of failing to put football into its proper perspective is that the events in Argentina ’78 traumatised us to a completely unreasonable degree. I recollect watching a bizarre TV phone-in featuring Jock Stein in which a bewildered fan rang in to speak to Jock in the mind-numbing aftermath of Willie Johnston’s premature repatriation. Why, he wanted to know, was “Bud” being sent home. Big Jock patiently attempted to explain that, inconvenient as it might be, performance-enhancing drugs were frowned on by the world football authorities. The bemused caller could not apparently get to grips with this concept and repeatedly asserted “But he’s a good wee winger“, as though if only that could be explained to FIFA, they would relent, “Bud” would be back in the team, and the Jules Rimet trophy would soon be winging its way to Glasgow. Although you can’t imagine a Canadian phoning in to say of
Ben Johnson “But he’s a good wee sprinter” or a Welshman ringing in with “But he’s a good wee weight-lifter”, its easy to appreciate the emotional turmoil which prompted the comment about Willie Johnston. What the caller was really wishing to express was “We were cheating and we still got fucked by Peru. What the fuck’s happening?”. No amount of long after the event jokes about “Bud” being sponsored by Boots the Chemist can disguise the humiliation.

So much for drugs. Lets turn to drink (yes let’s!). Several years ago, BBC Scotland decided it would be a novel idea to have their Christmas Sports Review of the Year conducted in the form of an informal live conversation between Archie “Potato-heid” McPherson and Hugh McIlvanney. The seasonal informality extended to them sharing what was apparently a genuine bottle of the national drink, and during the programme the conversation naturally became less-focussed and more, er, slurred. At one point Archie switched on his serious voice and asked Hugh what his hopes for the New Year were. McIlvanney commenced a long semi-coherent ramble which concluded with the wish that Scots football fans, would, when abroad, discontinue their then current practices of “rampaging about, pillaging, robbing and raping old women“. Fuelled by too much of the hard stuff and clearly entranced by the last of these possibilities, “Potato-heid” quipped “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it’. This inevitably led to the jamming of the BBC switchboard and also to the end of alcohol-based cosy wee chit-chats about football, though not, unfortunately to the end of Archie McPherson who still afflicts us with informative comments like “That’s a great ball, nobody there” or “Its a lovely pass, no”. Archie also seems to be obsessed with the number of players who take their eye off the ball at the crucial moment. If they’re not looking at the ball, I wonder what they are looking at. Some old women in the crowd, maybe.

That’s drugs and drink covered. How about some rock’n’roll? A previous article in TAG drew attention to the musical delights on offer at East Stirling’s ground. There seems to be a true vinyl junkie at the helm in the Firs Park music box. I’ve only been there a handful of times, but I’ve already heard most of Television’s “Marquee Moon”, a selection of Lee Perry’s weird reggae and some unidentifiable but tasty blues. Regrettably even this doesn’t seem enough to draw the crowds. The attendance at East Stirling’s home games is almost always quoted in the press as being 150. On some of the occasions I’ve been there I can only presume that a significant proportion of that number were inside the music-hut grooving to the hip sounds, as they certainly were not to be seen watching the game with the other 60 of us. I was there on the opening day of this season for the game against East Fife. There may well have been 150 spectators there that day. At half-time I overheard a spectator remarking to his friend “Here comes Securicor with the takings“. I looked along the deserted terracing to see a young lad, Walkman clamped to his ears, meandering along carrying a Smiths crisps box. Closer enquiry revealed that this was indeed the “gate receipts”. These appeared to consist of a few pound notes, a quantity of Bulgarian coinage and half a dozen Guinness labels. Well, okay, that last sentence is a lie, but one wonders just how clubs like East Stirling survive. I hope that they continue to do so, if only for the music.

East Stirling can be contrasted with Clydebank. I haven’t had the pleasure of attending at Kilbowie Park for some time but certainly when I was a regular attender a few seasons ago I discovered that wise men delayed entering the ground until kick -off time arrived to avoid the horrors of the P A system. The loudspeaker was quite diabolical with its switch apparently broken at the top volume marker. At 2.30 pm of a Saturday afternoon the few hundred punters who were already through the gates would have their peace and quiet rudely interrupted as this monster roared into action spewing out the latest chart-topper at incredible volume. All that the hapless Bankie fans could do was cover their bleeding ears and shout in unison “Shut that fucking racket off”. Their protests never did any good, of course, as nobody could hear a bloody thing above the din of disco-beat.

The club seemed to have a sponsorship deal with a local record shop contractually binding them to play a certain number of records per Saturday whether or not this conflicted with the main entertainment. It was not unusual for the play to be raging on accompanied by the rhythmic pulsing of Michael Jackson’s latest smash. Were it not so tragic, it would have been amusing to see the older Bankie fans wincing in agony as crashing power-chords bisected their ears. What made it worse was that the music was uniformly crap. (unlike the football of course -Ed)

Drugs, drink, rock’n’roll. What’s left? Ah yes, sex. I can’t think of any printable links between football and sex, so you’ll have to make do with Chris Waddle. Prior to his multi-million pound transfer to wherever it is he’s gone, some extravagant claims were made on behalf of the footballing skills of Chris (Chrissy?). Among the more absurd was for some fawning media types to compare him to the legendary Tom Finney. It was left to Tommy Docherty to put this babbling into its proper perspective with his customary panache. The Doc agreed that Waddle and Finney were on a par with each other, adding by way of explanation, ‘Mind you, Tom’s over 70 now’.

We’ve covered the major vices. Let’s now get into some real minority weirdness. Supporting Dumbarton will do for a start. A peculiarity at rain-soaked Boghead is that the layout of the place is such that it’s possible to drive your car into the ground and watch the game from the comfort of your driving-seat. Drive-in movies got nothing on this, as our American cousins might say. For some reason, many of the local juveniles, who have not yet aspired to motor-cars, come into the game on their bicycles. When the action on the field is less than entrancing they while away the time by holding impromptu cycle-racing a la Death-Race 2000, round the terracing. You might think its pretty hellish having someone piss in your pocket at a big game, but unless you been to Boghead I bet you’ve never been knocked down by a bike while straining to see an inswinging comer.

One of these wacky racers recently managed to get himself and his bike on to the running track at the side of the pitch just as the second half started. As he cycled round the perimeter to join his pals on the other side of the field the ball was knocked out of play just in front of him. He obligingly dismounted and retrieved the ball. One of the old-timers near me looked up momentarily from his match programme and said disbelievingly, “Christ, hiv the ball-boys got bikes noo?”.

That reminds me of an occasion when I was unfortunate enough to attempt to return a ball intoplay at a Linlithgow Rose junior match. It was just after the burgeoning Ibrox empire had taken over a basketball team. The ball flew into the tiny covered enclosure and came to rest at my feet. I picked it up and took careful aim hoping to avoid hitting the heads of the OAPs near the front. Regrettably, the roof of the enclosure was sufficiently low to ensure that the ball struck an overhanging stanchion and flew straight back at me. Slightly flustered, I tried again with precisely the same result. I could hear various hurtful remarks such as “Sign that c**t up for the Rangers basketball team” and “Never mind the ba’ let’s get on wi’ the game”. When I finally managed at the third attempt to return the ball to play via the bald head of a pensioner, I resolved in future to feign illness if the ball ever came near me again.

One amusing side-line for most Scottish football fans is the enjoyment of not supporting Rangers. From time to time during the season a peculiar ritual takes place at about 3.50 pm of a Saturday afternoon. The players of both sides have left the field. The spectators are quaffing their watery Bovril. The substitutes of both teams are busy kicking balls several yards over the crossbars. Suddenly, sporadic whooping breaks out from small groups each with a trannie-man at the centre. The joyful cry spreads out from these centres till the whole crowd is buzzing. The public address system crackles into life. The announcer, who always sounds as if he’s in the act of simultaneously eating a copy of the match programme while he delivers his intimation, confirms the glad tidings. The entire mass of supporters spontaneously erupts in throaty exultation. From Aberdeen to Berwick and all points in between the scene is the same. On sparsely populated lower division terracings there’s even room for celebratory dancing and bicycle wheelies. The cause of this glee? Rangers are getting beat. This is the cue for community singing from Links Park to Palmerston. Regrettably, opportunities for this sort of activity have become less common in the last three or four seasons. Pre-Souness, it was a weekly event, as much part of the game as Peter Grant getting booked or the referee being a complete bastard.

If your team is not doing too well and the impressive/oppressive/repressive success of Rangers is getting you down, take a longer look at some of the mini-dramas being enacted around about you. There’s a lot more to football than 22 men kicking a bag of wind round a field.

Who am I trying to kid? If Dumbarton don’t get promoted and Scotland fail to beat Costa Rica I’ll be the first to get the gas oven cranked up.

First published in TAG 17 – March 1990


2 Responses to “The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 25”

  1. […] letter writers are mainly sensible, though Hoots McPherson (possibly not real name) rather straddles the line, – “Ah hae enclosit a wheen o’ siller fur the nixt sax bit buiks wi’ their bonny pictures an’ thir gey canty bit speak. In fac’ ah dampt near runkle ma breeks ilka time ma e’en lichtens oan it……….here’s tae us, wha’s like us, dam few an’ they’re a’ in the World Cup Finals…“ Posted by almax Filed in The Absolute Game Leave a Comment » LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. Craig Says:

    Absolutely superb. Made me laugh again after all those years. Priceless.

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